After splitting a four-game series with the Red Sox, and an off-day on Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays will slide into the home stretch of the season when they welcome the reigning World Series champs into the Trop for a two-game series starting Tuesday. The Nationals dropped three-of-four to Atlanta over the weekend.
The Rays enter play 13 games over .500, with a 3-1/2 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East, and with a magic number of 10 to clinch the division (six over several other teams to clinch a playoff spot).
The Rays’ offense showed signs of life against the Red Sox, averaging 5.5 runs per game (RPG) over the life of the four-game set. Even so, half of the 22 total runs scored came on Friday when they defeated Boston 11-1. Taking that particular contest out of the equation, Tampa Bay was fortunate to win a second game given that they averaged just 3.67 RPG over the other three games and allowed an average of 4.33 runs. Tampa Bay also left a lot of chicken on the bone, hitting just .219 with runners in scoring position (7-for-32 overall, 0-for-7 on Sunday), and plating just a pair of two-out runs.
Washington’s offense continues to outpace the Rays in some regards, at least over a small two-week sample size, yet the Nationals underperform Tampa Bay in others — namely ISO, wOBA, wRC+, and wRAA.
Offense notwithstanding, the Nationals’ hurlers continue to be a liability, maintaining an overall 5.72 ERA/6.02 FIP over the last two weeks, and a 5.08 ERA/5.05 FIP across the life of the 2020 season. Needless to say, opener John Curtiss, Ryan Yarbrough, and Josh Fleming — as well as the rest of the Rays’ bullpen — need to keep the team in the thick of things the next two days, while Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe, as well as the rest of the team, need to pounce on any of Washington’s mistakes. Lest we forget that the Nats’ pitching staff limited the Rays to four total runs a week ago, and limited them to 2-for-15 wRISP.
Over the next two days, Kevin Cash is expected to lean on Ryan Yarbrough (0-3, 4.31 ERA) and Josh Fleming (3-0, 4.12 ERA). Dave Martinez will counter with Aníbal Sánchez (2-4, 6.34 ERA) and Austin Voth (0-5, 7.99 ERA).
John Curtiss will serve as the series opener Tuesday ahead of Ryan Yarbrough, who will in the bulk role. Curtiss hasn’t allowed an earned run over his past 10 innings of work and maintains a 1.53 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 9 K/BB across 17-2/3 frames this season.
Ryan Yarbrough labored through 2-2/3 innings against the Nationals in his return from the Injured List on Tuesday. Yarbrough allowed four runs on six hits and a walk with just one strikeout on 70 total pitches (43 strikes, 61% strike rate, 16% SwStr%). He also hit a pair of batters. Yarbrough has a 4.31 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 2.7 K/BB over 39-2/3 innings on the season.
Aníbal Sánchez allowed three runs on four hits with six strikeouts and two walks across five innings against the Rays on Tuesday. The right-hander started out by surrendering just two singles and two walks through five shutout inning, although he was pulled after giving up two singles and hitting a batter to start the sixth inning; all three baserunners came around to score. Sanchez enters Monday’s contest with a 6.34 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, and 2.5 K/BB across 38-1/3 innings. Key Matchups: Kevin Kiermaier (3-9, 2B, 3B), Manuel Margot (1-4)
Josh Fleming allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five across 4-1/3 innings on Thursday against Boston. The left-hander allowed a pair of home runs that sunk his battleship and accounted for all three of his earned runs. Even though he has yet to take a loss, Fleming has allowed seven earned runs on 13 hits across his last 9-1/3 innings of work (spanning two starts).
Austin Voth allowed three runs on two hits and two walks across 4-1/3 innings against Atlanta on Thursday. He struck out four. Things were looking good for Voth in the early parts of Thursday’s outing as the right-hander retired the first nine batters he faced, while the Nats staked him to a 5-0 lead. Unfortunately, Voth lost his command in the fourth when he walked two and allowed a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman. He struck out Nick Markakis to start the fifth inning but was pulled a batter later after he hit Tyler Flowers. The 28-year-old was charged with one more run when Ronald Acuna hit a two-run homer off reliever Wander Suero. The mainly three-pitch pitcher relies primarily on a 92 mph four-seam fastball and a 79 mph curveball with slight glove-side movement, while also mixing in an 87 mph cutter which has some natural sink.
— The Rays are expected to activate reliever Oliver Drake (biceps tendinitis) on Tuesday. Drake will take the roster spot of first baseman/designated hitter Ji-Man Choi, who strained his left hamstring Saturday.